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Regardless of whether you’re an archer, a crossbowman, a rifleman, or a pistolero, you need range targets. Targets allow you to zero/sight in your bow, maintain your archery skills, and experiment with different types of arrows and equipment (e.g., sighting systems, mechanical release aids).
In addition to enabling you to practice your archery skills, an archery target should also adequately stop the arrow. This serves two purposes: 1) it captures the arrow for later retrieval, and 2) it prevents the arrow from posing a danger to others. The latter purpose is analogous to a backstop on a rifle range. A stray arrow or one that passes through a target can travel a significant distance.
Archery targets typically fall into three categories:
Bag targets are relatively inexpensive and portable and usually contain high-density filler composed of foam or cotton. Bag targets also often have a heavy-duty handle, allowing you to transport them.
Cube or block targets provide several faces, often featuring different types of aiming points, allowing you to practice various shooting scenarios. Block targets can be helpful when shooting from different angles.
3D archery targets are usually designed to replicate a game animal, such as a deer or turkey, including the location of vital organs. These targets may also be to scale. While more expensive than bag and cube/block targets, 3D targets allow for more realistic practice sessions.
How to Make an Archery Target
Although important to the archer, you don’t necessarily have to buy archery targets produced at a factory. There are inexpensive, DIY alternatives to traditional archery targets. When you’re deciding how to build an archery target for a compound bow, you have a few options. You should determine whether you want to draw or paint a bullseye on the target or buy adhesive aiming points separately.
If you have access to round or square hay bales, such as on a farm or ranch, this can be a cost-effective option, as hay provides the weight and density needed to reliably stop an arrow. Placing a paper target on one or more faces of the hay bale will improve your ability to shoot accurately. This is also ideal for sighting in/zeroing your compound bow.
Unfortunately, while this method is simple, hay bales, being composed of dried grass, are susceptible to rainfall, so you’ll need to store them in an enclosed space during inclement weather.
Foam Floor Tiles
High-density foam floor tiles that interlock can be a durable alternative to hay bales or factory-made archery targets. Stacking these floor tiles, you can create a solid cube to capture various arrow designs. However, these floor tiles are not always the most affordable, so you may have to shop around.
Used or old carpet tiles can be stacked similarly to foam floor tiles, providing a suitable filling for a cube/square target. You can also construct a wooden frame to support the carpets.
The process of how to build an archery target for a compound bow encompasses several designs, including bag targets. The bag target is probably the simplest type of archery target to create yourself. The priority is to decide on the appropriate filling.
Used plastic pallet wrapping from a warehouse or hardware store and scrap foam or cotton can be highly effective for this purpose. Alternatively, if you have used towels, rags, and clothing that you no longer need, these will also work.
Regardless of the filling you choose, it must be dense. You can, and should, improve this by compressing the filling. For a basic bag target, all you need to do is insert the filling into a burlap or corn sack. Ensure the filling is compressed, close the top of the bag, rotate it for additional compression, and close the top with paracord or tape.
If you don’t have a sack or other bag or prefer a multi-face design, consider a cube/square target. These are perhaps the cheapest option because you can use cardboard boxes, new or used, filled with the same scrap material as the bag target.
Wrapping the cardboard box in duct tape or black electrical tape increases compression while providing a high-contrast external color against which to shoot. Furthermore, with multiple sides, you can attach different target designs. If the target begins to wear out, simply rotate it.
While field points are primarily designed for target shooting, it’s often necessary to practice using the broadheads with which you intend to hunt. This will help you determine the precise point of impact of your arrows, improving your accuracy in the field. The priority with any archery target is stopping the arrow. That’s why target manufacturers routinely refer to “stopping power.”
An arrow that passes through an archery target may be lost, damaged, or cause injury or property damage. The filler should be dense and capable of arresting the arrow’s forward movement — that’s its primary purpose.
It should also not cause damage to the arrowhead. The ideal type of arrow for target practice is the field point; however, bowhunters often test broadhead hunting arrows to see how they group. Exercise caution when practicing with broadheads — they can tear bag targets.
Whenever you practice with hunting arrows, you should inspect the broadheads, testing them for sharpness—shooting broadheads into a target, whether DIY or factory-made, risks dulling the razor-sharp blades. Dull blades can be a liability if you intend to use these arrows later for hunting wild game.
In broadheads with replaceable blades, this is less of a concern. In fixed-blade broadheads, however, you should periodically test the sharpness of the broadheads, resharpening them if necessary. A dull arrow is far less effective against a game animal. Unlike bullets, broadheads wound primarily by cutting.
Start Your Target Build
While you can buy high-quality archery targets for your recurve bow, compound bow, and crossbow, there are also inexpensive DIY alternatives. Using discarded cotton, plastic wrapping, clothing, and other materials densely packed, you can create your own bag targets. If you’d prefer a more professional-grade project, however, you can also build your own cube or block target using plywood and some basic hand tools. The choice is yours.